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Retail sales in Gwinnet appear to be on track

As 2005 came to an end, Gwinnett's retail sales appeared to be on track for about a 6 percent increase over the last year.

Gwinnett County economist Alfie Meek said the uptick means his forecast for the year is on target, and he expects about the same increase in 2006, though some kinks might get in the way.

"My only concerns are that people are carrying a lot of debt and that there has been a decline in per capita income in Gwinnett," Meek said.

Gwinnett's monthly retail sales have hovered around $1.1 billion through October, the last month of data available.

Belk making a move

Belk made it official.

The Riverside Parkway store in Lawrenceville is closing in favor of a newer much larger location at the Mall of Georgia.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Belk Inc. began running ads in last Sunday's Gwinnett Daily Post announcing store closing sales were getting under way.

Belk plans to move into the Mall of Georgia's Lord & Taylor, with renovations on the 120,000-square-foot store set to begin in February. The new Belk is expected to open in April.

Belk is the largest privately-owned department store chain in the United States, with 41 Georgia stores.

Bad dog food

A family-owned pet food company promised to pay damages to people whose dogs became sick or died after eating contaminated food.

The offer came as Meta, Mo.-based Diamond Pet Foods recalled certain dog-food made at its Gaston, S.C., plant. The corn-based products in the dog food contained a toxin that, once ingested, caused severe internal bleeding and death.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it was investigating.

At least one dog in Gwinnett may have died from eating the food. Denise Newlon - a Post employee - bought the product from Honey Do Hardware in Dacula.

Her Australian Shepherd, Panda, died Dec. 3.

Helping kids

Bob Healy is reaching out to local corporations and philanthropists to help level the playing field in youth athletics.

Healy's nonprofit foundation is partnering with Velocity Sports Performance in Lawrenceville. The goal is to offer up to $1,000 for 100 low-income kids that would benefit from access to the sports training equipment and technology.

"Youth sports can be a costly venture, and that cost is often a major determent for many families," Healy said. "The less-advantaged kids need our help."